Fewer Americans employed, unemployment rate drops

Perhaps it is time for Congress to zero out the budget of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an agency of the Department of Labor whose data is so important to financial markets that figuring out how to protect it against its early release has become a major debate in the halls of the Frances Perkins Building.

Why? Their work has become increasingly irrelevant.

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This morning the Labor Department announced that the unemployment rate dropped from 7.9 to 7.7 percent. The economy must be booming.

Only one problem: the same report shows that 122,000 fewer Americans were employed in November than in October.

What?

This disconnect is why the unemployment rate has become the most meaningless economic statistic released by the government. What’s worse is that it duplicates private-sector efforts that are more reflective of what is happening in the economy.

Both ADP with its payroll survey and Gallup with a traditional employment survey actually accomplish what the Labor Department attempts to do without costing taxpayers a dime.

This is not a debate about whether the Labor Department numbers are correct or not: it is a question of whether they are relevant or even a necessary government function.

Given the divergence between the announced unemployment rate and the actual number of people employed, it just may be time for the Labor Department to get out of the statistical survey game altogether.

As the Senate is currently being asked to decide whether to confirm a new commissioner to lead the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they should ask the real question. Is the bureau performing a necessary function that cannot be done by the private sector?

Since the answer is no, there really is no excuse for either confirming a new commissioner, or continuing to fund the agency itself. After all, I’m sure if the government statisticians were measuring the economy from the unemployment lines, they might have a chance of getting a true picture of our nation’s employment situation.